A Year in Review - My Top Travel Moments in 2015
I can't believe we are just hours away from starting a fresh new year! 2015 has definitely been an amazing year for me - from getting married (twice!), to turning 30 and exploring new parts of the world. As I write this post, all I keep on thinking is how lucky I am to have experienced all of these moments this year.
Since my blog took a bit of a hiatus this year, I wanted to share with you all some of my top travel moments:
Belgium - Brugges, Ghent, & Brussels
One of my first trips in 2015 was to Belgium. My mother was turning 60 and at that time living in Saudi Arabia. She decided she wanted to celebrate her 60th birthday in Belgium with her two kids. So I booked a flight, for what was the shortest trip to Europe possible, to spend 46 hours with my mom and my brother. Since we all had visited Brussels in the past, we spent the afternoon walking around into different mom and pop shops eating traditional local fare and drinking of course plenty of Belgian beers. My favorite spot was visiting Delirium's pub that is hidden in an alley in the heart of the city. Of course when we got there it was packed - on a Friday night that bar was filled with tourist, expats and your fare share of locals. We didn't care! We quickly found a table for 3 and I ordered 8 different beers for us to try. Each beer along with each sip we laughed, joked, made friends with our "neighbors" and planned out our second day in Belgium. On our second day, we grabbed a day bag filled with snacks and jumped on the first train to Brugges. By far, the most enchanting and fairy tale-esque city I have ever been to. From the low hanging trees, to the swans gliding through the river, and the multiple gorgeous bridges, to even some of the oldest churches we have seen, it was fantastic! Of course, we couldn't leave Brugges without enjoying a waffle and stopping at the local market for some fresh bread and cheese before we got back on the train and headed to Ghent. My perspective of Ghent is much different from what others have experienced. I honestly wasn't a fan of it - I thought the structure of the city made it cold and unfriendly. However, friends that have visited and toured other areas of Ghent have said they prefer Ghent than Brugges. To each its own! Ghent was definitely a walk-able city - however the hills can definitely fool you! Even though it was an extremely short trip - it was worth every penny and every inch of exhaustion. Nothing like spending quality time with family in a new country!
Dominican Republic - Punta Cana
In 2012, I got the chance to visit Dominican Republic with my now husband. When we left, one thing we both agreed on this was the island we would get married in. Fast forward to 2015, we were planning a 100 guest, destination wedding in gorgeous Punta Cana for October 10th, 2015. Before our wedding day, we headed to Punta Cana to celebrate my 30th birthday and to wedding plan! It was the best 4 days - we got the chance to finally travel alone, celebrate my milestone birthday, plan for our wedding and just relax on one of the world's most beautiful beaches, Playa Bavaro. Once October came, those 6 days in Punta Cana went by fast - yes what they say is very true - but it was worth it! We had a chance to bond with our closest family and friends in ways we wouldn't have been able to if we would've hosted the wedding in Chicago. From having a catamaran cruise for our wedding rehearsal, to day drinking, sunny days on the beach, laughing and crying, it was the best time of my life. I wouldn't change a thing of it - including stressing out and losing my voice!
United Arab Emirates - Dubai, Abu Dhabi
We were one of the many fortunate people who had the chance to travel to the UAE last year thanks to Etihad Airways system glitch. When we booked our tickets we had no clue what we were going to do, all we knew was that this journey was going to be part of our honeymoon experience. We stayed a total of 6 days in the UAE and had the chance to visit Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Qasr. For me the highlight of our trip to the UAE was our stay at Anantara's Al Qasr Desert Resort. This resort is in the middle of the largest and most beautiful desert in the Emirates. As we drove southwest to our destination, we found ourselves driving through twisted roads with gorgeous sunset color sand dunes on both sides leading us straight to our secluded and very sexy resort. Everything surrounding this resort was superb - the food, customer service, the cocktails, wine menu, the room, and their excursions! We took advantage of our stay in the desert and did two of their most popular sand dune excursions - camel riding sunrise and sand dune bashing sunset. We did both activities on the same day and had a blast! Highly recommend doing both (maybe not the same day!) but definitely do it. Warning, they are a bit pricey but if you think about it - you might not have another chance to do it again, so why not?! Our time in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were also a lot of fun - we had a chance to visit the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Emirates Palace among others. Highly recommend checking them out since it is part of the cosmopolitan life of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. However, if you didn't know already, the Emirates is really westernized so don't expect to have a 100% true middle east experience during your visit. Don't let that discourage you from visiting this amazing country!
Turkey - Istanbul
Our second stop during our honeymoon, we headed to Istanbul, Turkey. This was exactly what we needed after spending a few days in the Emirates and Dominican Republic. Istanbul has become my favorite city in the world. It has everything that I love about a major city: deep rooted history, new discoveries at every turn, combination of cultures, amazing food, very walk-able, and really colorful people. We visited the European and Asian side of Istanbul - both are very unique and different in their own way. We enjoyed plenty of street food like kebobs and mussels stuffed with rice. We walked into almost every mosques that we bumped into - walking into each mosques for me was such a humbling and extremely experience. Honestly, I am lost for words right now on how to express the love I have for Istanbul. Wishes were made during this trip that have already come true (but can't share yet!), hence why Istanbul has a lot of meaning for me (us!).
2015 was such an amazing year! It was filled with so many magical moments. I can't wait to see what 2016 is going to bring us! I hope your year was filled with many blessings. Thank you for reading my blog and being a huge supporter. I wish you a Happy New Year 2016.